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The levity of mascots is serious business

After a week of nonstop politics, this story tip sounded especially fun — except that it threatened to make my alma mater look stupid.

The University of Texas, with all its wealth and legal muscle, was forcing John Long Middle School in little ol' Wesley Chapel to stop using its mascot. The tip seemed real enough when I read the outrage from young students who had become quite proud of being Longhorns.

And now they were going to be the John Long Aardvarks?!

The students gathered in their Internet chat room to sound the alarm. Oh, the humanity! Who let this happen? This can't be true!

Well, turns out it's not.

As our crack reporter Jeff Solochek learned, some teachers at the school wanted to generate interest in an upcoming audience-participation play that centers on a middle school that loses its pet aardvark. So the principal announced that, under pressure from the University of Texas, the school was changing its mascot from the Longhorns to the Aardvarks.

The result was no War of the Worlds, but principal Beth Brown and her staff got a lesson in just how fast news travels in this modern wwworld.

Not that having an aardvark as your mascot wouldn't be cool. But outside Africa and zoos, you aren't likely to see one. Armadillos, of course, are another story.

By coincidence, when I was a student at the University of Texas at the end of the 1960s, a fun-loving group tried to make the armadillo the mascot. At a football game in Austin in 1969, some shirtless hippies put a leash on one of the armor-plated creatures and ran across the field to the cheers of thousands. The hippies paused a few feet from Bevo, the storied Texas steer.

The premier rock 'n' roll nightclub in town over the next decade was the Armadillo World Headquarters, just to give you some idea how fond we Texans are about the critters, occasionally referred to by their scientific name: Roadkillibus Texanis. (That's a joke, son.)

It's fun to think back to those days, when Mom and Dad paid the bills and the Longhorns won back-to-back national football championships; when you could get four gallons of gas for a buck and they threw in a free glass or dish; when 99 cents got you a six-pack.

But you can't dial up those memories without also remembering the antiwar marches, the sting of tear gas, club-wielding police pushing through campus. In that atmosphere, longhairs running with a leashed armadillo offered much-needed comic relief.

Today, that might take a saddle.

The levity of mascots is serious business 11/08/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 10, 2008 1:18pm]

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